President David Granger: Well, thank you very much for coming out this morning to welcome my wife, Sandra, and I. I have been here before and I always remember that I was speaking to a group of residents of Surama and it was just after a flood - below the Rupununi has flood and drought - and I said, ‘one of the commitments that I will make to the Rupununi and to Surama is that never again must Surama be cut off from Georgetown’; and a very bright teacher got up and said, “You mean, never again must Georgetown be cut off from Surama”; but I have been on the trail more or less for six years. (Y’all got to get a solar mike, you know.)
I’ve been on the trail for more or less six years and I’ve been to all of the regions of Guyana and I have particular love for the Rupununi, the Upper Takutu - Upper Essequibo Region, the biggest region in Guyana. But unfortunately it has the least infrastructure; it has the least highways, poorest bridges; but this is a very important part of our country.
In particular today, my wife and I - and we’ve come with our Vice President, Sydney Allicock, to pay a visit to the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development that is at the heart of Guyana. If you look on a map, just go to the middle and put your finger and you will put your finger on Iwokrama.
Iwokrama is bigger than Malta, but for us it is our green heart; it is the hearth of Guyana, and it means to us a lot more than a patch of forest. Guyana cannot develop, we cannot become a rich and strong nation unless we learn the lessons of Iwokrama, the lessons of biodiversity, the lessons of conservation, the lessons of climate change, the lessons of sustainable energy, the lessons of living together in concert, not in contradiction but together with nature.
It is very significant, people of Surama, that the first indigenous Vice-President in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana should have come from Surama; but your Vice-President, our Vice-President, Surama’s Vice-President, has a track record of commitment, not only to community, not only to country but also to ensuring that the entire zone of this part of the Amazon basin, this part of the Guyana shield, would be developed in a sustainable manner. And I do believe that over the years, not only his work but his message has gotten through to all of the communities in the North-Rupununi and even the central and South-Rupununi because those lessons are relevant to the entire country.
I have come here not for a walkabout or to go to Turtle Mountain and to have a good time. I’ve come here to learn a lot more about Iwokrama because it has so much to do with the future of this country; it has so much to do with our Caribbean; it has so much to do with our continent. I really do believe from everything I’ve seen in all ten regions that unless we solve the problems of biodiversity, of conservation, of sustainable development, Guyana will continue to be poor.
We are rich. Two weeks ago I was in New York speaking to mostly Guyanese who have migrated there over the last twenty or thirty years. We call them the diaspora; well, I call them the ‘living-pora’ instead of the ‘die-aspora’; but, seriously, what I told them is that what is taking place in this country is something which they perhaps never dreamt of.
I said, ‘You all have come from a land of giants, and most of the giants are right here in the Rupununi - the harpy eagle, the river otter, the caiman, the spider, the anteater; all of these animals, ten, twelve of them are world class and if we... - and this is what I told them - ‘if we put them in pepperpot, if we put them in souse, you may be happy for a weekend but it will damage us in the long term’.
I said, ‘I have no interest in manatee souse and manatee pepperpot. I want to see our biodiversity; I want to see our flora and fauna preserved so that not only we here living here today but our children and grandchildren can see it too’. We can see these animals, these fish, these birds - hundreds of birds. There are more birds in the Kanuku than in the whole of Western Europe, but the only reason we can see them is because our parents and fore-parents didn’t kill them out; and I don’t want the present generation to kill them out before my grandchildren could see them and enjoy them.
One day, and I hope it will be soon, people will be able to drive from Crabwood Creek to Sand Creek without getting out of the car. Children will be able to come here on holiday and see this beautiful heritage - see the savannahs, see the mountains, see the lakes, see the rivers, see the animals, the flora and fauna. So all of this - y’all mustn’t ask politicians to start talking early in the morning, you know - all of this explains why I’m here today. I’m here to make sure that all of the people of Guyana, in all ten regions, understand the importance of this green agenda, this green economy that we’re speaking about. We can all be rich, we can all be prosperous, we can all have a good life but we mustn’t destroy the very elements which give us that good life.
I am told that among the indigenous people there is a saying that trees hold up the sky; so if you cut down all the trees the sky will fall. Well, maybe you know now that trees don’t hold up the sky but I tell you what - if you cut down the trees, the water levels will rise and you know Rupununi is not a place for water levels to rise because it will lead to more flooding, it will lead to climate change, it will lead to a lot of destructive patterns.
So today I come not as a visitor. I come as a Head of State yes, but I’ve come as a partner between central government; the regional government; between the Caribbean Community, of which I am a part and the Guyanese community; between the coastland and the hinterland so all of us can sit down and work together. We’re not enemies; we’re not fighting each other for resources. We’re working together to make sure that the benefits of this good, bountiful, beautiful land would last from generation to generation.
We would not be here fifty years from now, sixty years from now, but you all, the children, would be here, I hope; but this youngster here and I have other plans. We just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of independence, and four years from now we will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of becoming a republic.
I hope that you had meaningful celebrations here. I don’t know what you did but the children here have got some exercise books and I hope that these exercise books will help them in their schoolwork and I hope that we will be able to continue to help them to stay in school.
I hope that by the time Guyana becomes or celebrates its fiftieth anniversary there will be fewer dropouts from school and I hope that the institutes which are being set up here at Annai, at St Ignatius, Aishalton, Sand Creek, and of course Bina Hill, and in Iwokrama itself will help to produce an educated population so that people not only from around the country but also from around the Caribbean will be coming to the Rupununi, will be coming to Iwokrama, will be coming to Surama to see how to live with nature.
Thank you very much for your warm welcome this morning.
Thank you for being in the forefront of environmental security and our green economy.
Thank you, Surama.